AUGUSTA — Dana Haskell had heard about therapy dogs but had never spent any time with one. But after more than 30 minutes of interaction with four therapy dogs in the University of Maine at Augusta library, Haskell was sold.

“I wish we could have them here every day,” said Haskell, 25, of Augusta. “I’m loving every minute of it.”

The four dogs — two Labrador retrievers and two Cavalier King Charles spaniels — spent about an hour Wednesday in the library, rolling around on the floor, drinking water and receiving affection from students, the library staff and faculty members. The dogs were brought in to help students deal with stress during finals week.

Kati Corlew, assistant professor of psychology, said she has several therapy dogs in her family and can attest to the support they can provide.

“I see a number of my students that bring therapy dogs to their classes and on campus (in Bangor),” Corlew said. “They increase relaxation and calm and help people in anxious situations.”

Corlew said the act of comforting, petting and playing with a dog stimulates the positive neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine.

“They bring out the chemicals of happiness and calm,” Corlew said as she showered Coffee the Labrador with affection. “College is stressful, and (students) who have a sweetheart like this one really benefit.”

A small area in the back corner of the library’s first floor was set up for the canine companions, complete with bowls of fresh water. Chairs were used more as a perimeter than a place to sit, because most people got on the floor with the dogs. Close to 10 students and about a dozen others took turns petting and interacting with the four four-legged friends.

Therapy dogs have been around for decades. They spend time comforting those in hospitals, schools, mental health facilities and treatment centers, and airports. Coffee, who turned 7 on Sunday, spends Friday nights at the Long Creek Youth Development Center, a South Portland facility for juvenile offenders. Coffee’s business card — yes, she is a dog with a business card — was passed out proudly by owner Olivia Rottari. The card noted Coffee likes belly rubs and treats.

Corlew said therapy dogs are helpful to college students because of how much stress the students have in their lives on a daily basis, especially those from diverse backgrounds.

“College students are in a constant state of dealing with life issues and with things happening, so a lot of times, they are always on the brink,” Corlew said. “They have really benefited from therapy dogs.”

Librarian Shiva Darbandi said because of the diverse student population, she and other library staffers thought therapy dogs would be immensely helpful.

“We knew that other university libraries have had therapy dogs come to their schools to help students de-stress,” Darbandi said. “We have veterans, nontraditional students, single moms and single dads, people who have a lot of stress in their lives in addition to the stress of finals, so they were our inspiration.”

This is the first year the library has hosted therapy dogs, and it would be a safe assumption that the dogs will be invited back in the fall. When the library staff posted the event to its social media pages, it became one of its most-mentioned and shared posts.

“We received a ton of likes and shares and followers,” Darbandi said.

Kate Burke, activities coordinator for Wagging Tails Therapy Dogs of Maine, said the main focus of a therapy dog is to make someone smile.

“We are doing such a variety of works in hospitals and schools, and reading programs (in libraries) have become very popular,” Burke said. Her two spaniels, Finnegan and Peko, received plenty of attention from Corlew, Haskell and others. The other Labrador, Cody, had just arrived with his owners from Arizona, where he spends half the year, so he was ready and willing to lay on his back to have his belly rubbed.

Haskell said she came to the library after taking a statistics final earlier in the day because she knew the dogs would be there. When told there would be another six dogs from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday at the Bennett D. Katz Library, Haskell didn’t hesitate.

“Absolutely, I’ll be here,” she said.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ

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